Let’s begin with a confession; patience is a virtue I aspire to, not one I’ve mastered. I hate to wait, I hate to wait in line, I hate to wait for people, and I hate to wait for a surprise. When I was a child I became a master at poking undetectable holes in my Christmas presents so I wouldn’t have to wait to find out what was inside. (Many years later I discovered my mom knew I poked holes in the presents, she just gave up caring.) This reluctance to wait has never worked out well for me; I didn’t want to wait on marriage, so I talked my fiancé into getting hitched when we were 19 and 20; I didn’t want to wait for graduation, so I dropped out of college after my sophomore year; (I eventually earned my undergraduate degree almost 15 after high school.) I didn’t want to wait on technology, so I bought a computer that became obsolete on the drive home from the store. If there was a prize for impatience I would be the first in line because I just don’t have time to wait around.
As a grandfather, however, I am learning the value of waiting. Playing board games, it can take the five-year-old five minutes to count the spaces to move her token. When the seven-year-old “helps” with the dishes it often takes twice as long to get the table cleared and everything in the dishwasher. Small nations can rise and fall in the time it takes to put the baby down for his nap. But it is in these small moments, these moments spent waiting on the big moments, that I truly see God at work. I see the neurons firing as the five-year-old perfects her counting, I hear the beginnings of leadership as the seven-year-old shares her day while almost rinsing the dishes, and I feel my heart being knit together with my grandson as I feed him his bottle before he goes to bed. I am learning patience in the forced pauses of caring for the grandkids. I am learning to look for God in a broken schedule.
How can we help our children to learn this lesson of the beauty of waiting before they are in their fifties like me? I think it might be in pointing out the beauty we find while we wait. I question the value of trying to convince a child the value of delayed gratification, but I wonder what he could learn if we helped him experience the tingle of anticipation. Rather than constantly distracting our children with devices and entertainment I wonder if we can help them find meaning in the mundane, satisfaction in the torture we call waiting.
I suspect the key to helping our children learn the value of patience is we have to first learn the lesson ourselves. What if this week, instead of sighing and tapping and muttering and pacing while we wait, we sit and listen and look for God at work in the cracks that appear in our schedule? What if we recognize that it is almost always in the waiting that we discover the true value of the gift of time? The writer Ann Voskamp says it like this:
“What if I laid down efforts and expectations, perfectionism and performance?
What if I breathed deep and simply waited with arms and heart and eyes wide open?”
Think about it for a while, I’ll wait right here.